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Published: December 11th 2014
I am now down a day in Vietnam because of my delay in Bangkok, so I skip my typical "arrival to a new city" routine of drinking a local coffee and walking all over the place, for a tour of Halong bay. I usually skip tours because I don't like to travel like that, but there aren't really many other options for Halong Bay. You can take a local bus down, but then you'd have to hire a boat when you got there. I opt for a day trip even though a lot of people recommend an overnight tour, but it's expensive and I am already strapped for time. I really like my hotel, the dorm rooms are spacious and the beds are really comfortable and the staff are beyond friendly and knowledgable. A steal at $8/night. The prices for their tours are very reasonable and come with guarantees. In reading reviews for HB tours, this is one place you don't want to skimp. Cheap tours are often dirty and unsafe with a lot of hidden charges.
We are picked up around 7:30 in a minivan and take the three hour trip to
HB. We have one stop at a rest stop, which sells nice but pricey gifts and has refreshments, the ultimate tourist trap. Hop, our guide, is funny and nice. We arrive to HB with a slew of other tourists. The harbor is literally just tourists, tour guides, and tour boats. We find our boat and are seated for lunch. The boat is two stories and very nice, with clean bathrooms and real toilets. Big plus. We are then served this egregious multicourse lunch, with vegetarian friendly options. The food is beautiful and really impressive looking, but lacks any flavor - think buffet. Probably nervous about the white people complaining about spice. We then take "tour one" which includes a boat tour of some of the most famous rock formations, a trip through a cave, and kayaking. Unfortunately, for some reason I don't understand, the government had decided to ban kayaking starting yesterday, so this part of the trip is revoked, though we are reimbursed for it.
The tour is fine. The rock formations are beautiful and the cave is massive and like nothing I've ever seen before. Someone decide to light it up with multicolored lights -
not sure that I'm digging the effect. I have good conversation win the other people on the tour and we head back around 5pm. We then have another 3 hour van ride home.
All in all, totally worth the $33 I spent for the tour, which included everything. I'm glad I saw Halong, and everything was timely and well executed. Maybe it's because I just got back from Thailand and had spent a lot of time seeing the same type of rocks and water, but I wasn't crazily impressed. I think the impressive thing about HB is it's enormity, but thats really not best appreciated from a boat. I definitely would not have wanted to spend the night on the boat. If I had more time, I would have gone and stayed on Cat Ba island, which I've heard great things about, or Nihm Bihm or some of the other waterfalls up north. There are some great spots in northern Vietnam which are much less toured. But one will never have enough time, and it was a strong check off my bucket list. We get back to Hanoi and grab dinner on the street, a type of
dried crab noodle dish, and have an early night.
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